Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Guide to Healthy Eating: What to Eat?

Whether your goal is to lead a healthier lifestyle, win the battle of the bulge (want to lose fat) or bulking up, I truly believe that healthy, wholesome nutrition and good eating habits are absolutely vital to ensure that your body functions optimally for health and good results. I will first share on what to eat on a daily basis.

For a healthy and balanced nutrition, here's what to eat:

1) Lean protein: Why should you eat it?

- When it comes to enhancing metabolism and building lean body mass (LBM), protein is KING, regardless if you're trying to lose fat or bulk up.

- Protein is the main building block of the body (like bricks for a house) and is crucial for cellular regeneration, muscular growth and recovery, especially if you're involved in sports or weight-lifting.

- Protein requires the most energy by the body to break down and use. The TEF of protein is as much as 30%! For example, if you eat 100 calories worth of protein, 30 calories is burned by the body just to digest it and only 70 calories is taken in!

The best protein sources should contain all the necessary amino acids which make up the protein structure. Sources from animals like meat and produce contain complete proteins. Plant-based sources such as soy and beans are incomplete proteins, as there are missing amino acids and require other protein sources to complete them.

Ranking for the best protein (in order of number):
1) animal/whey protein.
2) casein (from dairy).
3) soy-based protein.

Good sources of complete protein: LEAN white meat/poutry (chicken/turkey/pork), LEAN red meat (beef/venison/bison/lamb etc), egg whites/whole egg, all types seafood, 100% whey protein powder and low-fat dairy (if you're not lactose intolerant). Note that whole animal protein (meat/eggs) is always best and should be emphasized over protein supplements like whey protein. I usually consume whey during post-workout or at times when it's inconvenient to have a proper meal.

2) Starchy complex carbs: Why should you eat it?

- Carbs are absolutely vital for optimal performance and health, and it is the preferred source of energy by the body. - Starchy complex carbs contain necessary nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and are high in fiber.

- Due to it's high fiber content, it has a low GI and is slow-digesting, thus it provides a sustained release of energy and doesn't cause a large insulin spike.

- When it is eaten, the body has to undergo a complicated metabolic process to digest, break down and absorb it. Thus, complex carbs generates a TEF of about 20%.

To explain briefly on carbs and insulin: When all carbs are consumed, it is converted to blood sugar or glucose in the bloodstream. When glucose levels in the blood are elevated, the body responds by releasing a hormone called insulin from the pancreas, which is responsible for transporting nutrients to all the cells in the body. Then, glucose is transported to the liver, muscles and fat cells. In the liver and muscles, they are converted to glycogen, a form of energy storage for the body. Any overconsumption of carbs will result in (you guessed it!) fat storage, when glycogen stores are full. An insulin spike occurs when carbs are absorbed too quickly into the system and the body over-reacts by secreting too much insulin. The insulin then quickly shuffles all the glucose into the liver, muscles and fat cells (if you eat too much) to stabilize the blood sugar level in the body. Very high insulin levels also prevent fat from being used by the body and promotes fat storage. Therefore, both quantity and quality of carbs are important to prevent frequent insulin spikes that will result in fat storage.

Good sources of complex carbs: oatmeal (I love this!), all types of potatoes (sweet/white/red etc), yam, brown/wild/basmati rice, whole-grain bread/pasta/cereals, all type of grains (quinoa, wheat, rye etc) and all type of beans.Note that it is best to consume complex carbs in its MOST NATURAL STATE, with exception to whole-grain bread/pasta/cereals. For non-natural complex carbs, it's best always to read nutritional label AND ingredient list before consuming, as there are a lot of fake or low quality manufactured whole-grain foods. When choosing, look for products with higher protein, the MOST fiber, LEAST amount of sugar and sodium.

When trying to lose fat, you might need to limit carb consumption. But, this will depend on individual genetics, level of carb sensitivity (how well your body responds to carbs) and how your results turn out. There's actually no need to jump right on a low-carb diet, which is usually short term and is not healthy long term. From my own personal experience, it is better to switch to high-quality, natural carb sources and follow a moderate carb diet to fuel my workouts and stay healthy.

3) Fruits and vegetables: This one is a no-brainer, right?

Here are some of the facts and benefits of eating fruits and vegetables:

- Both are very high in fiber and provide volume due to its water content, which naturally suppresses appetite, increase satiety and make you feel full longer. You can easily reach your daily recommended fiber intake by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

- Both are much less calorie-dense (less calories per serving) and are very nutrient-dense (provides the most nutrients per serving).- Both contain loads of antioxidants/phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals to boost your immunity system, decrease risks of developing illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases and to repair and nourish the body.

- Vegetables are also a type of complex carb (fibrous complex carbs) and also requires a lot of effort to break down and absorb during digestion. It has a TEF almost similar to protein, about 30%.

If you're trying to lose fat, some may argue that the sugar content in fruits may hinder results. However, the sugar (natural simple carbs) in fruits are a mixture of glucose and fructose in varying ratios. Fructose cannot be absorbed into the bloodstream directly and must be converted into glucose first in the liver. Thus, fruits usually only trigger a mild insulin response when consumed. Whether to exclude fruits or not, it depends on each individual and your results. For me, however, I would still eat them. To me, optimal health is the most important.

Good sources of fruits: EAT ALL TYPES OF FRUITS!

Vegetables (non-starchy) is the only food that's extremely low in calories and carbs, most nutrient dense and extremely high in fiber. If you're trying to lose fat and want optimal health, it is basically a free food so consume AS MUCH AS YOU CAN!


4) Healthy Fats: In this day and age, fat phobia still does exist. Like carbs, the key is choosing the right kind of fats to eat, not avoiding all fats. Healthy fats or EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids) are very much needed, cannot be produced by the body and can only be obtained from foods. EFAs consist of unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated (omega-6) and polyunsaturated (omega-3) fat and can come from both plant and animal sources.

Some benefits of EFAs:
- Increases metabolic rate and energy production.
- Helps fat burning. (Yes, you need to eat fat to lose fat!)- Boosts your immunity system and reduces inflammation.
- Increases testosterone production.
- Helps in lubricating your joints.
- Improves skin texture (dry skin is a symptom of EFA deficiency).
- Reduces bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol levels.Good sources of healthy fats: all types of fatty fish (salmon, tuna, etc) and most seafood, all types of nuts, 100% natural peanut butter (no added sugar/salt/oil/additives), avocado, extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil etc.

As mentioned, not all fats are created equal:
1) unsaturated fat/EFAs (extremely beneficial).
2) saturated fat (consume moderately in small amounts).
3) trans fat (avoid this like THE PLAGUE!).

Some people may argue that saturated fat is not necessary but it is actually important to have a small amount of saturated fat, along with EFAs in your diet. Saturated fat from natural foods are different and have a slightly different chemical structure than saturated fat from processed, refined foods. Contrary to popular belief, when saturated fat from natural sources is consumed in small amounts, it does not increase bad cholesterol at all, unless processed fats. You can get saturated fat naturally from butter, milk, egg yolk, coconut milk/oil, animal fat etc. I will write about the dangers and how to spot trans fat in foods in a separate post.

Now, you have an idea on what healthy, balanced and wholesome nutrition should consist of. If you've been eating a lot of unhealthy fast food or junk foods, you should make small adjustments to include healthier foods until eventually, it will become a norm in every day life. Healthy eating is all about a lifestyle change to better your physical, mental and emotional well-being.

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